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March 19, 2008

Smith: Spring Breakdown

While most of the national media is focused strictly on the recent downturn of the Gator basketball team, there is another front opening today for UF fans starved for anything and everything O&B.

The Gator football team takes the field Wed. afternoon for the first of 15 practices and GatorBait.net will be there every step of the way with daily practice reports, photo gallery's, notebooks, interviews, video features and much more.

For the first time in 10 years, spring football practice will not conflict with the Florida basketball team's appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Unless you get gung-ho about the NIT (yeah, all two of you), the only game in town will be at the football practice facility as the Gators begin preparing for year No. 4 under Urban Meyer.

I'll be 530 miles away, but here are a few items to look for as you await the first live practice reports to be posted this afternoon from Mark, Adam and the gang.

If you haven't already, now would be the time to try out our 7 day free trial

TIME TO SHINE: Five players who will need to emerge this spring
1. Emmanuel Moody, So., RB: No need to get creative here. Everyone is hoping Moody will be the first game-breaking tailback in Meyer's tenure. The USC transfer has more upside than any UF running back since Ciatrick Fason, but he has to prove himself on the practice field first. Meyer's last truly dependable RB was Brandon Warfield at Utah in 2003. Moody could be next.
2. Justin Trattou, So., DT: This is an un-sexy pick. Why Trattou instead of a host of other candidates at defensive tackle? Because he was the most fundamentally sound of last year's freshman linemen and has the best chance to build of learning quickly from his experiences as a true freshman. The Gators could count on no one in the middle last year, a sure recipe for disaster defensively.
3. Major Wright, So., FS: Notice a sophomore theme here? Wright, a big hitter, was not an effective free safety last year as UF's leaky pass defense got exposed several times. He may be more suited to play closer to the line of scrimmage, and spring practice should reveal whether he is capable of filling the Reggie Nelson role of intimidator/center-fielder.
4. Louis Murphy, Sr., WR: Murphy was good last year. He needs to be great next fall because Andre Caldwell no longer is around to take the heat off of Percy Harvin. Murphy should easily surpass his 2007 totals of 37 catches, 548 yards and five touchdowns, but only if he pays attention to every little detail this spring. He has the ability to be a star.
5. Dustin Doe, Jr., LB: Doe's 85 tackles, the second-highest total on the team, were misleading in 2007. After a good start, he was not fundamentally sound, causing breakdowns in the UF defense. That was no surprise in his first year of extensive playing time, but he has to become more disciplined this spring. If he gets better, he and Brandon Spikes will be a formidable duo.

BATTLE ROYAL: 3 Position Battles to Watch
1. Cornerback: The Gators were awful at this position a year ago as they broke in a whole new group of players. Joe Haden is in command of one spot, but a slew of candidates will complete for the second spot, including incumbent Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson and Jacques Rickerson, all members of the 2006 recruiting class, and true freshman Janoris Jenkins.

The winner is... Pierre-Louis. We kept hearing how good Anderson would have been if he had suffered a lingering injury against Tennessee, but where's the proof? Pierre-Louis, a better athlete who was awfully raw when he arrived, will learn from last year's experience.

2. Running Back: Moody already is the presumed winner, but Florida has other candidates. Mon Williams is back from the torn ACL that forced him to redshirt last year, but it usually takes a year for running backs to regain their explosiveness after that injury. Kestahn Moore, UF's leading rusher in 2007, also will be in the picture.

The winner is... Moody. On paper, he is the complete package. The coaches have been unhappy with the running back production since they arrived in 2005. That problem should end this spring.

3. Backup Quarterback: If Tim Tebow stays healthy, Mark Wheeler could be his backup and it would not matter. But the competition for backup quarterback should be very interesting anyway, with redshirt freshman John Brantley (if he recovers from an injury to his shoulder as quickly as the coaches anticipate) trying to surpass true sophomore Cam Newton. Newton has to prove he can throw in rhythm. Brantley, a beautiful passer, has to prove he can run the offense.

The winner is... No one. Meyer will want both of them to think they will be the top backup over the summer, and neither is experienced enough to get much separation this spring. They will end the spring as co-No. 2s.

THE TERRIFIC TEN: Top 5 players on Offense/Defense
1. Tim Tebow
(and this would be true for any team in the country)
2. Percy Harvin
(he is the most exciting player in the country)
3. Cornelius Ingram
(Still raw, he made the right decision to return)
4. Emmanuel Moody
(Finally, a play maker at running back)
5. Jason Watkins
(headed for a huge spring if the coaches are right)
1. Brandon Spikes
(all he lacked was experience last fall)
2. Jermaine Cunningham
(will step up despite Derrick Harvey's departure)
3. Joe Haden
(showed tremendous promise as a freshman)
4. [db]Major Wright (the lessons he learned last fall will pay off now)
5. Dustin Doe
(see Wright)

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